The Ethnic Implications of Preferential Voting

John Coakley, Jon Fraenkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
456 Downloads (Pure)


Around the turn of the century, political developments in Northern Ireland, Fiji and Papua New Guinea encouraged claims that preferential voting systems could steer polities in the direction of ‘moderate’ multi-ethnic government. Sixteen years later, we have a longer time period and larger volume of data to reassess these verdicts. This article investigates ballot transfer and party vote–seat share patterns in the seven deeply divided polities with some experience of preferential voting for legislative elections or direct presidential elections (Northern Ireland, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Estonia, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Southern Rhodesia). We find little support for centripetalist claims that such systems encourage ‘moderate’ parties. We argue that where district magnitude is low, where voters are required to rank preferences and where ticket voting prevails, departures from vote–seat proportionality may favour ‘moderate’ parties, but such heavily engineered systems may simply advantage the larger parties or yield erratic outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-697
Number of pages27
JournalGovernment and Opposition
Issue number4
Early online date27 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2017


  • electoral systems
  • ethnic politics
  • Fiji
  • Northern Ireland
  • Papua New Guinea
  • preferential voting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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